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Climate Equity & Common Ground on the Global Stage at COP28

December 15, 2023

Authored by Jessie Buendia, Dream.Org Vice President of Sustainability

Dream.Org attended COP28 to advocate for an inclusive green economy that is green for all, not green for some to advance climate equity on a global scale. I was honored to represent Dream.Org in officially observing the negotiations, and it was a wild ride! 

The United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP28) took place from November 30th through December 13th, 2023 in the United Arab Emirates, one of the biggest oil-producing nations in the world, and was led by President Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of the UAE oil company Adnoc. As I packed my bags for Dubai, I was a bit skeptical that any meaningful change would occur. Many environmental leaders protested attending the conference because of the location, who presided over the conference, and the heavy presence of oil and gas lobbyists. Yet the urgency of the crises – and the fact that this is the hottest year on record – made it imperative to attend.

The conference started with President Sultan al-Jaber saying there was no scientific need to phase out fossil fuels, which caused the entire international community to erupt in protest. The pressure from those remarks ended up forcing President Sultan al-Jaber to work harder to be an honest broker between the U.S., the EU, island nations, and the Middle East oil-producing nations. The negotiations went well into overtime on December 13th, one day after the conference was supposed to end, when the delegates of the UN Conference (COP28) agreed on a historic package of climate measures to keep the target of capping global emissions at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels within reach. 

The final agreement was notable in two major ways:

    1. Transitioning Away from Fossil Fuels: At COP26, countries agreed to phase down coal but did not include other fossil fuels such as oil and gas. For the last two years, countries have been advocating to include phasing out of all fossil fuels which was fundamentally opposed by countries dependent on oil and gas. The agreement this year included for the first time in history a reference to transitioning away from fossil fuels in a just, orderly, and equitable manner to avert the worst effects of climate change. 
    2. 1.5C is our collective goal: The agreement included the first official report card, also known as the global stocktake, to measure how well countries are meeting Paris Agreement goals to limit the global temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, while aiming for 1.5 Celsius; scientists agree that exceeding this threshold will force dire consequences for humankind and ecosystems alike.  COP28’s final agreement clearly reinforced that 1.5 degrees Celsius is the collective goal.
      The findings from the global stocktake indicate that we are falling short on all fronts - reducing emissions, investing in technology, adapting to unavoidable warming, and pooling money to help the countries that contribute the least to climate change but stand to suffer the most from its impacts. The final agreement calls on all nations to contribute through a series of actions, but is far from creating a clear roadmap of how we will realistically get to 1.5C, who should pay, and who will benefit.

    Wins for Climate Equity 

    1. Increased Investment in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: The agreement calls for a tripling of renewable energy and a doubling of energy efficiency by 2030. As an organization deeply invested in building an inclusive, green economy, this was a very positive sign that more investment is going to be made into the sectors that are currently represented by our Dream Entrepreneur Network. This is a very important indication to the investor community that renewable energy will shape future markets, not fossil fuels.  However, renewables are not the only solutions presented; there are loopholes in the text that leave the door open for investment in natural gas and carbon capture, which are both technologies that environmental justice communities have advocated against. 
    2. Creation of the “Loss and Damage” Fund: Within the first few days of the event, countries formally adopted a “loss and damage fund” which was a central goal for many social justice organizations including Dream.Org at COP27 that unfortunately wasn’t realized. A “loss and damage fund” is critical because developing countries are expected to lose between $290 and $580 billion per year by 2030 because of climate change, and will need approximately$4.3 trillion each year until 2030 to scale up renewable energy.

      The goal of the fund is to pool $100 billion per year to finance climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. However, by the end of the conference, we were only able to track pledges of more than $700 million and there was no reference to developed countries needing to pay a greater share and phase out fossil fuels first. At Dream.Org, we work hard to make sure investment in the U.S. is equitable and goes to the most impacted communities. We have to do the same at a global level. Following the money is critical on both fronts to accurately measure equitable climate investments! 
    3. Reduction in Methane: Methane is the second worst greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, CO2. Methane causes 80 times more global warming than CO2 even though the gas only stays in the atmosphere for 10 years (compared with thousands of years for CO2). So cleaning up methane can have an even bigger effect on reaching the Paris goal of 1.5C. At this conference, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new rule that will sharply reduce methane and other harmful pollutants from the oil and natural gas industry, including the hundreds of thousands of existing sources nationwide. At Dream.Org, we fight each year to make sure the EPA has the support it needs to provide these kinds of critical protections to promote healthy communities.

    5 Key Takeaways 

    Attending COP28 as an official observer was a lifelong dream of mine. For the last two decades, I have worked on climate and environmental protection at the local and state levels as an advocate and an administrator, helping start community benefit and environmental justice programs at the local level and designing climate equity programs and initiatives at the state level. Now as the Vice President of Sustainability at Dream.Org, I brought a unique perspective to COP28 as my team works to maximize climate investments for disadvantaged communities here in the United States while equitably reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

    Here are my personal takeaways from the conference: 

    1. Building an equitable green economy requires a global perspective. The climate crisis isn’t partial to location. Its impacts are widespread and so are its solutions. At COP28, Dream.Org participated in conversations with business executives, government officials, and movement leaders. While everyone brought different perspectives and motivations for attending, the single unifying theme across all of the conversations I had is that we cannot solve the problem in isolation. It’s actually quite the opposite. Climate change requires that we leverage all of our collective efforts at a speed and pace never seen before in history.

      I had an opportunity to speak on a panel hosted by the Atlantic Council with leaders from the UK, South Africa, and the U.S. about just transition. We all were in agreement that the solutions need to be tailored to the community’s unique needs, that multi-sectoral partnerships are imperative, and that people across the globe have a lot to learn from one another. On a different day, we co-hosted a world music event with the HBCU Green Fund, Harambee House, and A Sustainable Future for Africa & the Diaspora focused on building cross-continental relationships through culture, food, and music that can nourish our souls. People-centered relationship building is at the heart of this work. 
    2. A solutions-oriented, common ground mindset is the only way we’ll make progress fast enough to address the global problem.  We attended a Bloomberg Green Conference which convened leaders in business, finance, policy, academia, and NGOs for candid conversations focused on creating solutions to support the goals set forth at COP28. It focused on pragmatic strategies for integrated climate action and methods to accelerate climate plans and measure progress. Whether it was covering the green economy, cleaner tech, greener living, or social change, the one unifying theme is that now is the time to lean into developing cross sector partnerships and building bridges with unlikely allies. It also means reporting on those stories and solutions, not just relying on news stories focused on conflict and distrust.

      At Dream.Org, we uplift stories of Black and Brown entrepreneurs bringing solutions to the communities most impacted by poverty and pollution, and help equip rising Black and Brown professional talent to break into the green economy. We also work with local governments and frontline communities in purple, red, and blue states who are forming new partnerships to draw down federal funding for climate infrastructure while uplifting community voices to make the best decisions for themselves and their communities. 
    3. Acknowledging failures without promoting blame culture. In my week at COP28, I got to go into the Blue Zone and see the U.S. Envoy John Kerry speak about new technology, the Federal Chief Sustainability Officer Andrew Mayock discuss the investments in the Inflation Reduction Act, and the U.S. Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi announce globally the U.S.’s historic methane ruling. I realized that we had so much to be proud of this year on a global scale. You root for your team in the way you do during the World Cup, wanting them to be the best and show the global community who the U.S. can be. But sometimes we are not the best, or we send mixed messages when people confront us. Instead of showing vulnerability or accepting failures, we often choose to find a scapegoat to blame instead of reaching across the aisle to bridge divides. While taking sides might be a good way to dodge hard questions, shifting blame to conservative America actually makes us look weaker on the global stage while alienating the 50% of Americans who still need to be convinced that climate policies and initiatives can benefit them. We can and deserve better. 
    4. Movement building continues to play an important role in making change happen. From my conversations during breakfast with veterans of the early COPs and talking to organizations like Climate Justice Alliance and Indigenous Environmental Network, people discussed how distinctly corporate the event felt. So much so that COP28 was the largest climate conference in history with 80,000 attendees and 4,000 journalists, in addition to world leaders, billionaires, and celebrities. There are trade show elements that feel like you are at a car show, which at times could distract from focusing on movement building. But, in the short time that I was there, I saw how people took advantage of moments like the President’s announcement on the scientific merits of phasing down fossil fuels to demand more from their negotiators. They used inside/outside strategies and succeeded in getting the head of an oil company from an oil-rich country to announce that the international community would be transitioning away from fossil fuels. Movement building and advocacy from all sectors and parts of the world are either working, or we are all trapped in an Orwellian novel. I’m an optimist so I choose to believe it’s working. 
    5. Everybody has a role to play in building an inclusive, green economy.  It was interesting to be at a global conference where people were very aware of the Inflation Reduction Act, while only 3 out of 10 Americans know about it back home. Of course, this is self-selection since we were at a climate conference, but it led me to think that all of these attendees of the conference were there because they were passionate about the issue and invested – whether principally because of the impact of climate change in their communities or monetarily because they wanted to make money (or not lose money) in this new green transition. It made me think, how do we get people back home invested too? Here are a few immediate actions that you can take: 


    1. If you are an entrepreneur or job seeker, learn about our Dream Entrepreneurs Network and sign up for scholarship opportunities.
    2. If you are a community-based organization interested in drawing down federal climate funds, join our Green Spotlight newsletter to get the latest updates on funding opportunities.
    3. Learn how to take advantage of federal tax incentives for your household before the end of the year here!
    4. With $369 billion on the line we need to ensure climate aid gets to communities that need it most. Add your voice & get involved with our federal advocacy work. 

The future starts with a dream.
The future starts with us.
Black woman standing in front of protestors.